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County small-claims courts could receive overhaul

Associated Press
May 2, 2012
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Marion County's small-claims courts could get a thorough makeover after a report released Tuesday detailed "significant and widespread problems" with how they're run.

The courts, which are in each of the county's nine townships, handle civil disputes involving less than $6,000.

One of the proposals calls for them to be absorbed into the Marion Superior Court system, which would require a change to Indiana law. Two other plans call for less extensive reforms.

The report will go to the Indiana Supreme Court's rules committee and legislators for review this summer.

Indiana Court of Appeals Judge John Baker, who was on the task force, said the courts hadn't been operating under best practices, mostly because the system's setup was flawed. But he said he expects that to change.

"We're convinced that the present judges of the Marion County small-claims courts are totally committed to correcting that," he said. "The persons that are now in the system are going to make sure that the system does it right."

The task force, which the state's highest court appointed earlier this year after receiving complaints about the small-claims courts, held public hearings in February and March and did its own evaluation of the courts to determine the extent of the problems.

Bringing the small-claims courts into the Marion Superior Court system would eliminate several of those problems, according to the report.

The county would be responsible for funding the courts, and the judges would have full-time positions, so they couldn't practice law. The courts would have to follow more rules, and they would have to keep more detailed records of the proceedings. It also would eliminate forum shopping by attorneys seeking the most receptive courts for their cases and would bring Marion County in line with the state's other 91 counties, which don't have a separate small-claims court system.

However, Marion Circuit Judge Louis Rosenberg, an adviser to the county's nine small-claims court judges, said he questions whether legislators would approve that plan because they haven't supported previous proposals for township government reform.

"What I'm concerned about is getting as many of the recommendations in practice as soon as possible," Rosenberg said, "and I think the easiest way to do that is 'Plan B.' "

"Plan B" in the report would require legislative action but would keep the courts in the townships. It still would make small-claims court judges full-time employees and would allow the courts to control their budgets. They also would have to keep better records.

The third plan the task force proposed—measures guiding people through the small-claims process—will be implemented regardless of whether the other proposals succeed.

For people who have been through the small-claims system, even small changes are welcome.

Southside resident Jake Tyler said he was blind-sided when he went through the small-claims court system. An attorney for his apartment complex convinced him and his roommate they didn't have a strong argument in their dispute over carpet damage. Tyler said they didn't know their rights, so they conceded.

He said he would support any reform to make the process clearer and make the courts seem more professional.

"We didn't understand what was going on, and it just felt wrong," he said. "That was the most frustrating part."

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  1. Those of you yelling to deport them all should at least understand that the law allows minors (if not from a bordering country) to argue for asylum. If you don't like the law, you can petition Congress to change it. But you can't blindly scream that they all need to be deported now, unless you want your government to just decide which laws to follow and which to ignore.

  2. 52,000 children in a country with a population of nearly 300 million is decimal dust or a nano-amount of people that can be easily absorbed. In addition, the flow of children from central American countries is decreasing. BL - the country can easily absorb these children while at the same time trying to discourage more children from coming. There is tension between economic concerns and the values of Judeo-Christian believers. But, I cannot see how the economic argument can stand up against the values of the believers, which most people in this country espouse (but perhaps don't practice). The Governor, who is an alleged religious man and a family man, seems to favor the economic argument; I do not see how his position is tenable under the circumstances. Yes, this is a complicated situation made worse by politics but....these are helpless children without parents and many want to simply "ship" them back to who knows where. Where are our Hoosier hearts? I thought the term Hoosier was synonymous with hospitable.

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